About the Artwork
The work of Richard Bell tackles the position of Aboriginal art and artists within the contemporary art world, directly criticising its appropriation by non-Aboriginal artists and its domination by white curators, critics, academics, dealers and collectors. Combining political bite and caustic humour, Bell’s works argue for greater Aboriginal control over Aboriginal art, and by extension, Aboriginal culture within Australian society.
The use of language and text is a regular strategy for artists addressing political ideas in their work, and one that Bell embraces. Bell’s four-panel work Worth Exploring? challenges the position of Aboriginal art and artists inside the art system, linking it to the historical legal status of European colonisation. With his trademark directness and humour, Bell uses a combination of painting and legal documents to raise complex questions of artistic authenticity, appropriation and reception, as part of a broad debate on Australian race relations.
Worth Exploring? features two documents that use European legal language and logic against itself: a statutory declaration challenging the legitimacy and legality of European colonisation, and a certificate of authenticity document, common practice in the Aboriginal art market, which Bell connects to forms of racial classification. Combining these texts with Bell’s own appropriation of other artists’ paintings, Worth Exploring? poses a provocative, complex and humorous challenge to our preconceived ideas of Aboriginal art, as well as addressing contemporary debates surrounding identity, place and politics.
Aboriginal Art is bought, sold and promoted from within the system, that is, Western Art consigns it to “Pigeon-holing” within that system. Why can’t an Art movement arise and be separate from but equal to Western Art – within its own aesthetic, its own voices, its own infrastructure, etc?
Russell Storer (curator), MCA Collection: New Acquisitions 2006 (exhibition catalogue and texts) Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, 2006;
Russell Storer (curator), Statement of significance, Museum of Contemporary Art, 2006
Quotation: Richard Bell, Bell’s Theorem: Aboriginal Art – It’s a White Thing!, 2002
Why can’t an Art movement arise and be separate from but equal to Western Art – within its own aesthetic, its own voices, its own infrastructure, etc?
Richard Bell, 2002
– About the artist
Richard Bell was born in 1953 in Charleville, Queensland, and is a member of the Kamilaroi, Kooma, Jiman and Gurang Gurang communities.
Based in Brisbane, Richard has held numerous solo exhibitions since 1990. He is represented in major collections in Australia and New Zealand and is internationally recognised through numerous exhibitions, including the significant European touring exhibition Aratjara: art of the First Australians (1993); Culture Warriors, the National Indigenous Art Triennial, National Gallery of Australia (2007); the 9th and 16th Biennales of Sydney (1992 and 2008); Australian Perspecta (1993), Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, the Unfamiliar Territory, Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art (1991) and Half-Light: Portraits from Black Australia at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney.
His work was the subject of the survey exhibition Positivity, presented by the Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane, (2006). He won the National Telstra Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award in 2003. In 2009, an exhibition of the Bell’s practice to date entitled I am not sorry, was held at Location One, New York, and he was also the recipient of Location One’s International Fellowship for that year. Uz vs. them, a major touring exhibition of Bell’s work organised by the American Federation of the Arts, premiered at Tufts University, Boston, in September 2011, and will tour to venues across North America throughout 2013. The exhibition is accompanied by a major new publication on Bell’s work.
Richard Bell’s work features in the collections of the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, as well as most state institutions. He is represented by Milani Gallery, Brisbane.